I’ve been thinking about writing this post for so long that I thought I had actually written it already. We’re very lucky on our course because every couple of weeks a guest writer comes and reads some of their work and answers our (often inane) questions. We’ve had some absolutely fantastic writers this semester: Anne Donovan, Vicki Feaver, Les Murray, Alan Bissett, Brian McCabe, James Robertson, Tim Turnbull… I think we’re the luckiest writing students in the world.
As well as being fantastically entertaining and informative, seeing all of these fantastic professional writers has taught me something absolutely valuable, something which you can’t be told; you can only learn by observing: reading your work in public can, and possibly should, be a performance.
It’s all very well standing up in front of everyone and reading out loud, making sure to pause effectively between sentences and enunciate, reading slowly and clearly. Yes, all of that is important.
But if your narrator has a voice, use it. Speak in that voice. It might be difficult, it might be excruciating, but for that five or ten minutes, be that character.
I know, I know, you’re a writer. Not an actor. You like to be squirreled away behind a desk, wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea and not talking to people. The last thing you want is to stand up in front of a room of unimpressed faces and… well, basically strip your soul naked and invite them to laugh at you.
Here’s what I
hope think: most people are nice and supportive. If they’re there watching you read, they’re probably on your side. They’re rooting for you and they’re hoping it goes well for you. They’ll clap and they’ll cheer, and if they’re nice they’ll come up to you at the end and tell you that you did well, because you did.
So get up there and read your work. Read it loudly and with confidence. Do it in an accent if you want. Move your hands around a bit. Use different tones of voice for dialogue. If your story is from the perspective of a bitter old lady, put that slight lemony pucker on your lips and hiss a little when you speak. If your story is from the perspective of a narcissistic pyromaniac, there might be a manic grin creeping around the corners of your mouth while you read (ahem… I’ll post a video one day). If you do well, your friends might not leave you unattended near an open flame ever again. And then you’ll know you performed, you didn’t just read.